Haunted by the ghosts of South Norwood Country Park, horror and science fiction author Simon Paul Woodward now gets many of his better ideas for his books when out on a run near his Coulsdon home.
PAUL SPALDING caught up with him
Gangs of pigeons and abandoned dolls in a window are a few of the striking images recorded by Simon Paul Woodward on his Instagram accout – the images acting almost like the author’s notes, often providing the core of an idea for his writing. After the success of his first three novels, All The Dead Things, which was first published six years ago, All The Dead Seas and Dead Weapons, Woodward has new titles due for publication in the coming months – including two volumes of horror short stories.
“I mark the start of my writing career to my 10-year-old self,” Woodward says.
“On a dark, stormy afternoon, at the end of a school term, our teacher, Mr Renfield, offered us a choice of last-day activities: painting, drawing or playing musical instruments. I chose to write a short story.
“Thunder rumbled. Lightning flashed. We counted the gap between light and sound to mark the storm’s approach. Sentences flowed from my pencil. Precocious as it sounds, what grew out of my afternoon scribbles was a childish mash-up of Dracula and Murder on the Orient Express. As I’d never read either book, my inspiration must have come from films I’d watched on television. My creation delighted me. My mates – who’d spent the afternoon flicking recorders dipped in disinfectant at each other – thought I was a bit of weirdo.
“In my late teens and early 20s, I started to learn my craft by writing short stories for the Small Presses (independently edited and published collections of genre fiction). I still remember the thrill of submitting a short story, receiving an acceptance and, two months later, seeing it in print. I won a few Year’s Best awards and the British Fantasy Society Short Story competition. Buoyed by that success, I wrote a novel.”
The transition from writing short stories to the commitment required to create a novel, and a novel that can be sold to a publisher, is a tough one, as Woodward discovered.
“The difference between a 5,000-word short story and a 70,000-word novel is not 65,000 words. If only it was that simple.
“The act of sustaining a believable, structured story, with developing characters, over that length, requires determination, patience, an understanding partner and a bloody-minded belief in the project. I stuck with it, wrote a shocker, got better and found myself an agent. That didn’t work out. I wrote another couple of books and found a better agent. She came very close to selling book on a couple of occasions, but it just didn’t happen.
“Around this time, the disruptive influence of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing was enabling an indie publishing revolution that ripped down the old barriers to entry and accelerated speed to market to a blur. Suddenly, anyone could be their own publisher of e-books, print-on-demand paperbacks, or audiobooks. Indie superstars like Hugh Howey and Mark Dawson emerged and made a killing.
“I decided the time was right for me to follow the indie route and three novels later – All The Dead Things and All The Dead Seas (books one and two in my Deathlings Chronicles) and the standalone Dead Weapons – I know I made the right decision.
“At Halloween, I’m revisiting my short story years and publishing a collection of horror short stories: Wearing Skin (volume 1). I will follow this up with a second collection in December: Wearing Skin (volume 2). Next April sees the publication of new standalone sci-fi fantasy, The King of Cartoons and later in 2021 a young-adult, dystopian trilogy called Clandestino: City of Gangs. I will be busy.
“I have always loved speculative fiction in all its forms: horror, fantasy and science fiction.
“It’s what I started reading from a young age when I was a devourer of books and I found the escapism they provided a heady drug – I still do. Although single labels are applied to books in these genres, the best books seamlessly blend elements of two or even all three genres. My formative horror influences were Stephen King (who has blended all three genres) and Clive Barker (who mixes horror and fantasy).
“None of my books are flat-out horror. The two books in the Deathlings Chronicles blend horror and fantasy (with a sprinkling of humour), Dead Weapons adds very-near-future, cyber-punk science fiction to the mix. The Wearing Skin collections are likely to be the closest I have written to pure horror for some time.”
Woodward is far from being a full-time author. He has to work for a living, with a job based in London in the travel industry.
And then came the lockdown.
“I work in Kensington and the commute from Coulsdon to work eats into my available writing time. I have to snatch whatever moments I can and be prepared to write wherever and on whatever is practical.
“So lockdown has been an enabler for my writing career.
“I have three hours a day back and have used this to work on completing projects and learning more about the dark arts of Facebook marketing. Peeking beneath the hood of this powerful marketing tool shows just how real the concerns around its misuse to subvert democratic processes are. The ability to drill down and micro-target are incredible. It’s the work of seconds for me to target Facebook ads at people on my street, with an interest in online news and politics.”
It has all helped to provide new ideas and inspiration for Woodward’s writing, as does various parts of Croydon.
“All The Dead Things and Dead Weapons both have protagonists based in South Norwood, where I lived for 10 years before moving to Coulsdon,” Woodward says.
“You’ll find South Norwood Country Park occupied by an army of ghosts, runaways in love in the basement of a well-known and periodically abandoned department store, a rendezvous outside the Town Hall, and plenty more references.”
With Woodward having so many new works in the pipeline, Croydon’s place as a location for horror and fantasy fiction seems certain to be reinforced in the coming months, too.
- All Woodward’s books are available as e-books or as a paperback through Amazon via his author page.
- And you can contact him via his website www.simonpaulwoodward.com, or sign up for his Reader Group and free introductory offer by clicking here.
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